Did you know that the first escape room was unveiled in 2007 in Japan, but the concept has Hungarian roots? Surprisingly enough, by 2015, more than 1,700 of similar businesses have sprouted around the world, bringing a new meaning to the terms of ‘teamwork’ and, of course, ‘puzzle-solving.’
Albeit a testament to their popularity, the rate of growth can also be construed as a sign that you may have some tough competition to overcome. To get a better idea of what you’re up against, you should definitely research your competition, to see how the market is divided. This will not only help you develop an effective business strategy to profit from your business venture in a highly competitive market segment but will also give you a general idea of what your clients expect from an escape room.
1. Establish Your Business Properly
Whether you are preparing to put together your first escape room or you have been in the business with moderately profitable results for a few months or longer, it is important to analyse your company’s business operations. While this is a unique type of business, focused on entertainment and your customer’s intellectual needs, it needs to be handled in the same professional fashion as any other business. For example, you need to have an effective accounting and fiscal management department in place to handle all subsequent monetary operations.
Since your escape room business relies heavily on technology, you will need an IT service provider to set up and maintain your servers, data storage devices, and others. Many escape rooms are outfitted with video cameras which are hooked up either to the front desk or a back room where someone constantly monitors the efforts of each team working as they’re solving puzzles.
For a more veritable experience, audio equipment can also be employed so that your employees may hear what is being said in the rooms and provide your customers with hints if they’re stuck on a puzzle. Many of these businesses also have an in-house IT networking team that looks after the cloud-based data storage devices. These are only a few of the many steps that you need to take to lay the foundation for an excellent office environment that fosters productivity, efficiency and even growth over the years.
2. Set A Reasonable Price Per Challenge
As you prepare a budget for your new business, you need to determine an ideal fee to charge each customer or team. A typical room fee can be anywhere between $20 and $30 per room, but this can vary based on the market segment. Remember that your rate needs to be high enough to cover your overhead and to return a sizable profit. Still, it needs to be low enough so that it may compete with other similar businesses in your area.
To increase your credibility, you might also think about setting up business aggregators – tools that will help your customers compare offers, prices, and availability. For example, this business finder is designed to show the locations of all challenges within a certain area and to offer time-saving information such as difficulty, number of participants per room, and ‘happy hour’ discounts. Moreover, such an application can offer other time-saving advantages such as online payment and direct booking.
3. Create A Truly Immersive Experience
Remember that people go to escape rooms not just to be entertained, but to be part of a story that is so meticulously designed, that it makes them forget about their real life. As such, a truly immersive game should appeal to as many senses as possible: sight, touch, hearing, and smell. Consider incorporating a soundtrack that is appropriate for the story and that induces a feeling of urgency. Since the visitors only have 60 minutes to escape the room, time is definitely of the essence.
Make sure to highlight this element as much as possible and your guests will definitely be entertained. Authenticity is key, so remember to use the right prop and scenery when choosing a particular theme. If the story takes place in the 16th century, for instance, there should not be any digital screens inside or any other objects that could ruin the overall authenticity of the game. Furthermore, if you feel that a particular smell is needed in that context, you can use concealed diffusers or a timed fragrance system, carefully placed out of sight.
4. Know Your Target Audience
One of the biggest mistakes in this business is neglecting to research your audience, thinking that you already know who you’re going to target. While it is true that most of the people who visit an escape room are young professionals ages 24-35 years old, when it comes to marketing your business, the audience may vary. Because this type of activity relies heavily on group collaborations and team bonding, it is an excellent way to organise a team building event, creating one of the most memorable experiences for co-workers.
In recent years, corporations have become an important clientele for escape room owners, which means that your marketing strategy should definitely aim in that direction, as well. Furthermore, knowing your target audience also means keeping up to speed with their interests (favourite movies, music, TV shows etc.) For example, if your target audience is a great fan of Stranger Things or Game of Thrones, you can take advantage of that by designing a room using that particular theme.
5. Spice It Up
There may be times when you’ll experience huge surges of popularity with a particular room, but remember: things change pretty quickly in this industry and people get bored faster than you can imagine. This means you’ll have to be prepared for a redesign every 5-6 months, in order to convince your old customers to come back. One of the biggest lessons in this regard is that you should always reinvest part of your profits into upscaling your business.
6. Market Heavily To Attract Customers
Since this is the type of business that heavily relies on new customers rather than existing ones, you will need to advertise your product constantly and effectively. Here are a few essential marketing strategies that you’ll need to implement in order to be successful:
Create a brand that is easily recognisable: This means choosing a name that is both unique and memorable. In addition to that, a properly optimised and visually appealing website can make a world of difference if you’re trying to outrank your competition. Be prepared to invest as much as needed in your website, as it is the digital business card that you present to your clients.
Social media marketing: If you have a business in 2017 and you’re not on social media, your chances of success are pretty slim. Being present on social media platforms can have the following benefits: growing your brand awareness, gaining new clients and retaining the loyalty of your existing ones, gaining useful insights by engaging with your followers, getting more traffic to your website, researching your competition and helping you make informed decisions.
There are two ways of using social media:
Organically: which basically means building a social community and interacting with it (publishing posts, sharing other people’s posts, engaging in conversations about your product etc.) Facebook, for example, is great at building and entering communities that are interested in your type of product (Escape Room Enthusiasts, Escape Room Exchange, and Humans of Escape Rooms are just a few of these), while Twitter is great at creating buzz around your product and making your content go viral.
Paid advertising: such as Facebook Ads, Instagram Ads, Pinterest Ads etc.
For maximum success, I recommend a combination of both.
Google AdWords: Google AdWords are great at placing your business in front of customers that are using Google searches to look for your type of product.
Offline Marketing: This may include billboard advertisements, roadside signs, TV or radio spots. Your marketing efforts should successfully reach out to your target audience in an eye-catching way.
Business Directories: Dubbed as an online list of businesses that share a similar niche, online directories will greatly increase your chances of attracting new customers. These are a great way of gaining more credibility, as directories provide visitors all sorts of useful information, such as user ratings, prices, and availability. For example, if we were to search for Escape Rooms London, we would get a listing of all the businesses in London offering this type of activity, the difficulty level of each escape room, their address and many other details.
Listing Your Business on Google Maps: Pinning your business on Google maps might seem like an odd thing to do, but it’s efficient way to increase exposure and to help your potential customers find you faster. For example, if someone wanted to search for escape rooms in New York, Google will show you the location and relevant info for the top three most popular businesses located in that particular area. More than that, the message should be so appealing that they are inspired to act quickly and to book a room challenge or puzzle right away with your business. You should also take additional steps to encourage repeat business from previous customers, by offering email promotions or discounts to regular customers.
Escape or puzzle rooms can be equally challenging and entertaining to run, but extremely profitable nonetheless. If you are thinking about starting your own escape or puzzle room or if you are looking for some excellent steps that can help you improve the profitability of your established business, now is a great time to put these ideas into practice and to start reaping the financial rewards of your endeavours.